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omarali50 01-06-2017 05:01 PM

The British Indian Army
Major Amin has written extensively on the British Indian Army and the Pakistani army and i made one of his book chapters into a blog post about the so-called "martial races". Formatting is not great, but you will get the picture.

The entire post is here at

Random Excerpts:


In the 1880 and 1890s it was widely believed that the Indian army was supposed to face the Russian threat originating from Central Asia. It was thus said that the Bombay or Madras soldiers who were shorter in height and smaller in physique were not fit for mountain warfare in India’s north west (564). Charles Chenevix Trench an Indian Army British Officer and a respectable military historian has given a reason for the British bias against east of Jumna and South Indian races. He says in his book on the Indian Army that “Reasons for preferring northerners were largely racial. To Kipling’s contemporaries, the taller and fairer a native, the better man he was likely to be. He looked more impressive on parade, he might be physically stronger, he would surely be braver and more loyal than the down country men. There was a general preference for the wild over the half educated native as being less addicted to unwholesome political thinking”. Charles Chenevix Trench went further in explaining this British bias, he said “Brahmins had been prominent in the Mutiny, and their diet and prejudices though somewhat illogical by stating as following: “The Madrasi soldier was smallish, blackish and rather low caste. The Mahratta was also in origin of no very high caste, and smallish to hoot. The fact that his grandfather had held India to ransom did not make him more acceptable to the Indian Army ” (567).

It must be noted that the first Afghan war was fought by a largely Hindu army. Whatever the initial British failures, the British won the First Afghan war, giving Afghanistan such a mauling that the Afghans dared not attack India in 1857 when the British were really highly vulnerable. It would be false and erroneous, however, to assume that the British immediately changed the class composition of the Indian Army (Bengal Army in particular) in the years following 1857. In this regard the British quality of patience and subtlety in terms of long-term thinking is admirable. They still continued recruitment from the areas around Delhi and east of Jumna; which had played a major role in the rebellion. The real shift and bias in British policy was a slower process; and had little connection with any war fought by a still largely Hindu majority and Hindustani heavy Bengal Army as evident in terms of 1885 statistics; in the period between 1880 and 1914.

..The theory of “Martial Races” influenced the post-1947 Pakistani Politics in a negative way. The new state was a federation composed of five nationalities. The army due to pre-1947 British policy was largely Punjabi. It was perceived by Sind, Baluchistan and East Pakistan largely as a Punjabi show in which the Pathans were junior partners. The army officers of that period were convinced that they were a martial race and the Hindus of the Indian Army were cowards. This myth was largely disproved in 1965 when despite having more sophisticated equipment, numerical preponderance in tanks and the element of surprise the Pakistan Armoured Division miserably failed at Khem Karn merely due to poor and irresolute leadership at the brigade and divisional level to a complete extent and even regimental level to a partial extent. Meanwhile the army employment in Baluchistan in 1950s made the Baluch think that little if any had changed since 1947. The officer from Potohar with limited grey matter perceived the Muslim Baloch as a foreigner as much as the British pre-1947 officer had thought. This was not the fault of the Punjabis as such, but the result of a British policy introduced during the period Usurping of power while leading the largely Punjabi based army by Ayub Khan increased the East-West divide. Things in Pakistani politics were then judged on ethnic lines. The on ground realities were different. Ayub was not a Punjabi but later in 1971 the Bengali Muslims blamed the Punjabis for all their maladies! In reality the Punjabis being leaderless were manipulated by both Ayub and Yahya! Bhutto who played a major role in persuading Yahya to launch the military action was a Sindhi!

... The non-Bengali or non-Sindhi civil servant in Sindh or previously in pre-1971 East Pakistan viewed the local Sindhi or Bengali as a despicable native! In March 1971 the Dacca University massacre of the students was as vehemently approved in Punjab, as Dyers Jallianwalla Bagh massacre of 1919 in Britain! The North of Chenab Rangers inspector or soldier behaves just like the Sikh soldier or any other Punjab irregular soldier whether Pathan or Muslim roaming in the deserted streets of post-20 September 1857 Delhi city. The soldier on internal duty in interior of Sindh behaves in a manner remarkably similar to the British Indian Army soldier in 1940s during the Hur uprising. A judge of the highest court in Pakistan notes that there was uniform precedence and similarity in the behaviour and verdict of Supreme Court judges in dealing with petitions of dismissed Prime Ministers belonging to Sindh! The Pakistani Muslim judge of today is as much a loyalist to the status quo as his pre-1947 predecessors. Subconsciously Punjab loyalty of 1857 is the pattern to be followed even today. “Loyalty pays” is the unwritten law followed by judges, civil servants, army officers, journalists, etc.!!...

omarali50 01-06-2017 06:04 PM

And his review of "Crossed Swords", a history of the Pakistan army


The author's viewpoint is somewhat subjective as he is a brother of one of the ex chiefs of Pakistan Army General Asif Nawaz. The book contains some factual errors , some possibly typing errors,expected from Oxford University Press Pakistan which has a reputation of doing this.Some errors are however historical and factual and were entirely avoidable.On page 8 3rd Light Cavalry of Meerut fame is written as 3rd Light Infantry and on page 9 becomes 3rd Light Cavalry.On page 22 Ayub Khan is placed in Assam regiment though Ayub's battalion officer Joginder Singh specifically stated that Ayub Khan was in Chamar Regiment in WW Two.On page 426 Naseerullah Khan Babar is promoted to lieutenant general and similar fate befalls Major General Sarfaraz Khan on page 223. 13 Lancers becomes 13 Cavalry on page 305.On page 470 he changes the ethnicity of Sardar Balakh Sher Mazari a Baloch Seraiki by calling him a Punjabi , an honour that no Baloch would like to have. A far more serious error Shuja makes while discussing the ethnic composition of Pakistan Army on page 570.He states that Sindhis and Baluchis are 15 percent of Pakistan Army.This is a serious distortion of history.The term Muslim Sindhi and Baluchi abbreviated to MS&B was given to
Ranghar/Kaimkhani/Khanzada Rajput recruitment in Pakistan Army in 1950s.The aim was to rationalise the recruitment of Ranghars in Pakistan Army. Later the usuper Zia in order to appease the Sindhis created the Sindh Regiment but Sindhis as far as my research reveals are far less than Ranghars/Kaimkhanis/Khanzada Rajputs in the army.The Ranghars are a significant class in fightig arms, being at least 35 % of armour and distinct from Punjabis.The Baloch are hardly represented in the army.As a matter of fact the Pakistan Army has such a reputation in Balochistan that no Baloch would like to join it.All thanks to General Musharraf,Zia and ZA Bhuttos policies.

...But again, it is incorrect to criticise Liaqat for Operation Venus since in December 1948 the Indian position was much more secure than in 1947.Liaqat can be criticised for not ever visiting Kashmir while the war was on and for not standing by Mr Jinnah in pressurising Gracey in October 1947 to order the Army to attack Kashmir.Had a Pakistani C in C been appointed even in December or in March 1948 the Indians may not have held on to Poonch- Nowshera area at least. Had Major Masud been allowed with his armoured cars on Domel-Baramula Road despite Ghazanfar Ali and Sher Khan's objections;Srinagar may have been captured by the Tribesmen by first week of November 1947. The Indians were lucky in having comparatively more regular army officers who led from the front as is evident from higher officer casualties among Indian Army officers above the rank of captain vis a vis the Pakistan Army...

...Now lets talk about the broad front deployment that Shuja Nawaz refers to .There is no doubt that the "broad front deployment" was done by Nisar and Nisar alone and Brigadier Abdul Ali Malik had no role in it. It is another matter that Nisar also did not know what was in front of him. It was like Jutland when both contending fleets were running towards each other at express train speed. Why Nisar behaved as he did and what actually happened even today is hard to understand, whatever anyone may claim now with the benefit of hindsight! Shuja Nawaz here in his 600 page book offers no tangible proof that the actions of 25 Cavalry had anything to do with what Brig A.A Malik told Nisar. Nisar was told to "do something" as clearly stated by an authority no less than Pakistan Army's official historian Major General Shaukat Riza, apparently not from Jhelum or from North of Chenab by a twist of fate. There is no doubt that Nisar did something without the least clue of what was in front of him. The important thing is that Nisar did something rather than getting paralysed into inertia and inaction! The "Do Something" order by Brig A.A Malik to Lt Col Nisar CO 25 Cavalry should not have been glorified to something higher by Shuja Nawaz simply on authority of an article written by a person who was a company 2IC in an infantry battalion of 24 Brigade and that too only in 1992.This is a serious historical failing.At least in a military historian but is the Oxford University Press Pakistan run by professionals? One may ask Colonel M.Y Effendi. The fact that Abdul Ali Malik was a close relative of Shuja Nawaz's wife makes this distortion a distortion par excellence. The same words of Brig A.A Malik " Do Something" were repeated by Nisar in his article published in Pakistan Army Journal in 1997. Perhaps Shuja Nawaz did not read all the accounts of direct participants.Perfectly excusable as he is based in USA.But not good military history certainly.The fact is that the 25 Cavalry on 8th September 1965 was functioning in a vacuum.Brig A.A Malik had no clue about armour warfare and Nisar had no higher armour headquarter to guide him.. 24 Brigade had two infantry units, one which had been overrun and dispersed on 8th September i.e 3 FF and 2 Punjab which was at Chawinda. The crucial action took place at Gadgor few miles north of Chawinda in which 25 Cavalry faced the entire Indian 1st Armoured Division. This was an extraordinary situation and Nisar acted on his own best judgement since Malik had abdicated to Nisar by stating that he should "do something". It is another thing that Nisar also did not know what was in front of him and acted boldly and unconventionally. Had he known what was in front of him he may have been paralysed by inertia and inaction! But this is speculation and some part of history always remains unfathomed and hidden!

davidbfpo 01-06-2017 07:08 PM

The British Indian Army

I have been fascinated by the British Indian Army, which is reflected in a number of books on the shelves and following the UK-based Indian Military History Society, with a superb journal:

You referred in part to:

Charles Chenevix Trench an Indian Army British Officer and a respectable military historian
In 2009 Red Rat posted:

The Frontier Scouts by Charles Chenevix Trench is out of print but highly recommended.
In 2007 I posted this:

Three books on the Indian Army and mindful of the Imperial era battleground of the North West Frontier re-appearing:

The Indian Army and the King's Enemies 1900-1947, by Charles Chenevix Trench (pub. Thames & Hudson 1988 in hardback)

The Frontier Scouts (the NW Fontier locally recruited units) by Charles Chenevix Trench (pub. Jonathan Cape 1985 in hardback)

A Matter of Honour: An account of the Indian Army, its officers and men, by Philip Mason (pub. Penguin Books 1974)

I've not checked Amazon for current availability and they maybe in a very good library.
The legacy of this remarkable army lives on. Their performance in the World Wars has led to some interest here. The MoD has even considered creating a Sikh Regiment, then ejecting it last year. Even if very much smaller the Ghurkas remain part of the British Army (vastly outnumbered by those who serve in the Indian Army).

omarali50 01-06-2017 11:32 PM

The British Indian army is a fascinating topic of study. And still relevant, because the Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi armies are still working on the same template (Indian more than Pakistani. I am not sure what category BD falls into now). And it is not a bad template. e.g. It allows for a narrow elite to utilize the talents of a much larger population, who do not necessarily share all the ideological quirks of the elite, but who are offered a very fair and transparent bargain: you do your duty with loyalty and courage, we will take care of you with fairness and sensible leadership. At least, that is the ideal. It did not always work, but that it worked so well is still amazing.

I personally think a lot of it (like a lot of history) was contingency and luck. Amazing characters like the Lawrence brothers, Abbot, Jacobs and so many wonder we don't tire of reading about it :)

Many years ago, I wrote a review of "soldier sahibs" (I may not hold all these opinions now :)) once that I will paste below:


Soldier Sahibs is an old-fashioned and unapologetically imperialist book. And writer Charles Allen makes sure you know what you are getting into by giving it the flagrantly politically incorrect subtitle: The Daring Adventurers Who Tamed India's Northwest Frontier. But imperialist does not necessarily mean inaccurate and Allen has taken a good deal of trouble to get his facts right. The book claims to tell "The astonishing story of a brotherhood of young men who together laid claim to the most notorious frontier in the world, India's North-West Frontier, which today forms the volatile boundary between Pakistan and Afghanistan."

The men in question include John Nicholson, Harry Lumsden (founder of the Guides), Herbert Edwardes, William Hodson, James Abbot and Neville Chamberlain. Protgs of Sir Henry Lawrence, these men were responsible for laying the foundations of British rule in the Punjab and the Northwest Frontier. The author's intent is to tell the story of these young men and through their adventures, give the reader an idea of how the British conquered - or, as he would prefer, "pacified" - the 'wild' Northwest Frontier of India.
But while Soldier Sahibs gives a very readable account of the adventures of these (surprisingly) young men, it is not possible to piece together the broader history of those times from his book. Why the British were here in the first place and what were the factors that made a small island in Europe more powerful than any kingdom in India do not form any part of Allen's concerns. Nor does he waste much time explaining the situation in the Punjab or of the East India Company at that time. In fact, the author does not even provide a map of the vast area over which his protagonists established their rule. If you are totally at sea about those times, then you may have to read a few other books to fully appreciate the goings-on in this one. But if you are one of those enthusiasts who cannot get enough of the Raj, the mutiny and all that jazz, then you will definitely enjoy this book. Its written in authentic 'Flashman' style, with wit and verve and loads of 'local color'.
The English heroes may appear larger than life but by all accounts some of them indeed were larger than life. And being Englishmen, they left us a veritable storehouse of laconic and understated wisecracks. These include Nicholson walking into the mess to tell his fellow officers: "I am sorry gentlemen, to have kept you waiting for your dinner, but I have been hanging your cooks." (The cooks had apparently poisoned the food but were detected and hanged, and dinner was served half an hour late).
Though Nicholson gets the most lines in the book, the stories of Edwardes of Peshawar and Bannu and Abbot of Abbotabad are also told in some detail. William Hodson, the villain who executed Bahadur Shah Zafar's sons, also gets a sympathetic hearing. We are told surprisingly little about Sir Henry Lawrence, who is supposedly the godfather of this fraternity. And it is not always clear why certain officer's lives are described in detail and others get only cursory mention. Lack or availability of sources may be the explanation for that .
In these times, it is impossible to read such a book and not look for parallels with the current efforts at "pacifying" Afghanistan. But these British adventurers and their peculiar code of life are poles apart from the westerners who are now coming to bring us into the civilised world. Occasionally, Madison Avenue will try to create a suitable heroic image for some American colonel or diplomat but the substance of this new empire is very different from the last one and so are its agents.
Nicholson and company may have been bigoted, male chauvinist psychopaths, yet they also had undoubted personal courage and their own peculiar brand of love of justice. In the Pakhtuns and the Punjabis, they found not just enemies, but also friends and fellow adventurers. It is fashionable these days to describe their local supporters as 'traitors' who took the side of a 'foreign power'. But to the Sikhs, Punjabi Muslims and Pakhtuns who fought under Nicholson to reconquer Delhi, the capital was was as much a foreign power as the British. And these British officers had always respected their honour and treated them fairly. They provided an administration that was in many ways a big improvement over the 'locals' they had replaced. In fact, it would not be remiss to say that the Punjabis and Pakhtuns who fought for the British were men of higher character and personal courage than almost any of their current detractors. Many things have improved since Nicholson rode across the plains of the Punjab blowing mutineers from canons but it is hard to avoid the suspicion that some things have also deteriorated.

Granite_State 01-07-2017 03:50 AM

Moreman's book on Frontier warfare is good, but tough to find for under $120. Sir Andrew Skeen's Frontier classic, "Passing It On," was reprinted a couple years ago under a different title. And Field Marshal Slim's "Unofficial History" is a gem. Far less well known than "Defeat Into Victory," it's a collection of stories from his time as an Indian Army officer in the interwar years.

davidbfpo 01-07-2017 10:40 AM

Bravo for the pointers
Cited in sections:

Originally Posted by Granite_State (Post 198889)
Moreman's book on Frontier warfare is good, but tough to find for under $120.

A new title to me,'The Army in India and the Development of Frontier Warfare, 1849-1947' so I looked for details as it was published in 1998. Currently priced at US$205 or E-book US$159 on the publishers US website entry:

There is a free 25 pg copy of the opening parts and the entire introduction on:

Three reviews here: or one in the UK:

One chapter 'Development of Frontier Warfare 1914-39' is available for free on:


Sir Andrew Skeen's Frontier classic, "Passing It On," was reprinted a couple years ago under a different title.
Which is available for free via:

Missed this one entirely, although long ago I read 'Defeat into Victory' and a biography:

And Field Marshal Slim's "Unofficial History" is a gem. Far less well known than "Defeat Into Victory," it's a collection of stories from his time as an Indian Army officer in the interwar years.

davidbfpo 01-07-2017 11:02 AM

Keeping a balance
The British Indian Army was not always a happy place nor an effective combat force. The "Indian Mutiny" notably, albeit when not under Crown control. See:

A small number of mutinies afterwards, such as one IIRC in Singapore in 1916 and the WW2 defections after surrendering to the Japanese to an ostensibly nationalist Indian National Army.

It performed well in very difficult circumstances in France in 1914-1915, through the winter; less well - with some newly formed units - in Malaya when the Japanese landed in 1941. The WW2 4th Indian Infantry Division, earned plaudits:

Field Marshal Lord Wavell wrote: "The fame of this Division will surely go down as one of the greatest fighting formations in military history,..... Das wrote also: "Even beyond its fighting reputation, it will be remembered for the spirit of mutual trust and fellowship maintained between all ranks coming from so many different races and creeds"

davidbfpo 01-07-2017 06:29 PM

Field Marshal Slim's "Unofficial History" is a gem
Cited in part:

Originally Posted by Granite_State (Post 198889)
And Field Marshal Slim's "Unofficial History" is a gem. Far less well known than "Defeat Into Victory," it's a collection of stories from his time as an Indian Army officer in the interwar years.

Tidying up today on command I found an article 'Student's Interlude' on a punitive raid in Malakand in 1923 by Slim, in British Army Review (Spring 2009) and the Editor added:

...the chapter above is more than sufficient encouragement for all soldiers to want their own copy. He covers episodes from the Great War (Gallipoli and Iraq), IS in India, divisional and brigade command in Abbysinia, Iraq and Persia as well as wonderfully drawn vignettes from his service (not Burma-India)'.
Excellent reviews on:

Several versions in the USA, just the latest edition linked:

I must get a copy.:)

omarali50 01-08-2017 03:48 AM


Originally Posted by davidbfpo (Post 198900)
The British Indian Army was not always a happy place nor an effective combat force. The "Indian Mutiny" notably, albeit when not under Crown control; a small number of mutinies afterwards, such as one IIRC in Singapore in 1916 and the WW2 defections after surrendering to the Japanese to an ostensibly nationalist Indian National Army.

It performed well in very difficult circumstances in France in 1914-1915, through the winter; less well - with some newly formed units - in Malaya when the Japanese landed in 1941. The WW2 4th Indian Infantry Division, earned plaudits:

Not always, but usually good enuff for guvmint work.
It is true that the more flamboyant characters (and the tougher victories) were in the EIC army days; the British Indian army was relatively conservative: steady and able to get the basics done without being spectacular... Still, they COULD get it done, even against European powers (they were almost always able to get it done against any non-European power). And while there were a few mutinies as you mention, these were very rare and exceptional events, while there were many examples of units fighting well, even against overwhelming odds (e.g. the Sikhs at SaragaRhi). Though other than Slim's campaign in Burma, there is no example I can think off the top of my head where they conducted a really outstanding large scale offensive campaign. So yes, they were not the German (or the Soviet) army, but they were generally reliable.
I have heard the argument that at least in the 20th century the British Indian army (or even the British army for that matter) lacked offensive elan at the higher levels. And that this carried on to their daughter armies. Actually there are a couple of examples of initiative and elan in the Kashmir war of 1948 (especially General Cariappa's attack to capture Kargil, operation Bison) but in the larger 1965 war both the Pakistani and Indian armies proved inept at large scale operations. In the 1971 war the Indian army's conquest of East Pakistan was spectacular (especially General Sagat Singh's performance in command of 4 corps) but it was also made easier by Niazi's weakness and the total support of the local population against a relatively demoralized and professionally compromised Pakistani army. On the Western front, neither side did much of note (General Iftikhar Janjua's capture of Chamb being a relative exception).

omarali50 01-08-2017 06:28 AM

Credit for operation Bison may go to General Thimaya more than General Carriapa.. Better informed Indian commentators can correct me.

davidbfpo 01-08-2017 10:41 AM

A really outstanding large scale offensive campaign
Citing Omarali50 in part:

Though other than Slim's campaign in Burma, there is no example I can think off the top of my head where they conducted a really outstanding large scale offensive campaign..
That is why the conquest of Italian occupied Abyssinia (Ethiopia plus) is so interesting, with the 4th & 5th Indian Infantry Divisions deployed alongside a real mixture of other Imperial formations and some allies. See:

The author is preparing a paperback edition so it may reach you one day.

omarali50 01-08-2017 04:56 PM

As it happens, i just posted a biographical profile of General Anant Singh Pathania on Brownpundits which includes some details of the battle of Keren (in the Abyssinian campaign).


.. Ultimately the British commanders decided to force a passage by narrowing the frontage of the attack to just 3000 meters astride the gorge. A renewed effort by the 4th Indian Divisionon the left to capture Brig’s Peak and Sanchil again failed. However, a brigade of 5th Indian Division commanded by Frank Messervy managed to ascend a spur on the right and after some bitter fighting captured Dologolodoc Fort. That night the next brigade of which 6/13th RFFR was the reserve battalion passed through to assault Zeban and Falestoh. The attack was held-up halfway and early next morning, the flank of 3/2ndPunjab (the left forward battalion) was counterattacked. ‘B’ Company 6/13thRFFR commanded by Anant Singh was sent forward to assist in repulsing the Italians. The ground over which it had to pass was swept by machine gun fire from across the gorge but the company made a rush, captured forty Italians and held ground. Throughout the morning in temperatures touching 40C and amidst heavy shelling, the rest of 6/13thcarried water, rations and ammunition up to the forward battalions. Its HQ was heavily shelled but with coolness and diligence, the adjutant Maj Sher Khan kept is operating efficiently. In spite of the best efforts of 6/13thRFFR and air supply mission,the Worcestershire Battalion on the right was critically short of ammunition and in the evening withdrew to a depression ahead of Fort Dologoroc.

As it was withdrawing, Anant’s company out on the left flank was heavily counterattackedby the better part of a battalion of Savoy Grenadiers who were among the finest troops the Italians had. In spite of losing a third of its strength the company gallantly held its ground. The history of the division records that the company commander ‘displayed magnificent courage and leadership in this action’. When the Italians succeeded in penetrating the centre of his sector, he led his company HQ and a few men whom he had collected to the counter attack and at the point of the bayonet pushed the Italians out from his company's position.Though wounded in the face and both legs, Anant Singh was not prepared to be evacuated and only did so five hours later under orders. The command passed to his company officer, Lt. Sadiqullah. The Savoy Grenadiers rallied and launched another attack but the officer handled the situation very well. In the nick of time the company was reinforced by two platoons and Sadiqullah led a charge and again drove the Italians back at the point of the bayonet. For conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty, Anant Singh was awarded a Military Cross. Young Lt. Sadiqulla was also awarded a MC in a subsequent battle but that is another story to be told.

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